Contentment is NOT a Foreign Land. (Plus, the Trailer!!!)

One morning, I sat down to write feeling crazy and desperate.

I was deep in the midst of a waiting season, and — much as I’d like to think otherwise — I’m not the most patient person. (Maybe you can relate?)

I wrote: “It’s all hopeless. So many times I’ve put my heart out on the line – in a post, a proposal – and received no response. Hearing nothing is worse than hearing no. Ask any writer, any artist. You can move on from a ‘no.’ But a ‘nothing’ can eat you alive.

I hate the uncertainty of it all. If uncertainty were an object, I would kick against it until it BROKE. How can one carry on in the face of it? How can one create something meaningful when other meaningful work has been buried? How can one take these terrible risks?”

Here’s what I heard in response:

“Honey, you’ve been looking to others for approval, but – surprise! – you need to look elsewhere. You need simpler measures for success: Did I write today? Did I publish that post? Did I do the work?

And if you can answer yes, let that be enough. Let that be your good news. Release the need for ‘big’ things to happen, and be faithful in the small things. When you need a lifeline, send one out for someone else. And most of all, practice looking around and seeing what NOW actually is.”

***

Now is a woman with a tear-stained face, sitting in a chair. The chair was given to her as a gift by her true friend. “To support you in your writing,” she said.

Now is the sound of the woman’s hands typing on the keyboard. The laptop was given to her as a gift by her wonderful family. “To support you in your writing,” they said.

Now is looking around her writing room. This room was given to her as a gift, renovated by her loving husband. “To support you in your writing,” he said.

Now, as it turns out, has nothing whatsoever to do with lack or uncertainty. Now is being surrounded by gifts, by certain grace.

***

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been waiting for a passport to a foreign country called Contentment. You’ve been standing in line and filling out forms and getting frustrated with everything around you. You do this even though this strategy has never worked before and isn’t likely to start working now.

But every once in a while, you catch a glimpse of reality. You see, however fleetingly, that there’s another way to go about your days. And that way opens up before you when you realize that all the time – all the time! – you were always and already a citizen.

You never needed a passport to get to Contentment. You didn’t need to waste time waiting in line. You just did that because you wanted those stamps. You wanted your passport covered in permission, decked out in approval. You wanted proof: Yes, you’re good enough. Yes, you’re welcome here.

But you don’t need stamps or a passport if you’re already home.

***

That’s what A Wish Come Clear’s new video trailer is all about: choosing love, losing fear, and finding home. (If you missed the story of how this trailer came to be, you can read it here.)

Thanks to Wes Wages and the talented people at Armosa Studios for their wonderful work, singer/songwriter Tiffany Thompson for providing the lovely music, and dear friends Camille Goldston Bennett and Kristy McKinney for donating their time, support, and hugs.

PS — Let’s meet in person, shall we? If you need a speaker for your next event, reach out now — I’m currently booking events for Spring 2014. To facilitate the process, I’ve released a brand-new Speaking Kit and Media Kit. Enjoy!

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What do you think of the video? Join the conversation in the comments!

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Receive posts via email, along with both Your Creed of Care: How to Dig for Treasure in People (Without Getting Buried Alive) AND Love’s Subversive Stance: Ground Yourself & Grow in Relationship. [Click to Tweet.]

In My Arms: A Guest Post by Gillian Marchenko

Happy Holiday, friends! Today, we’re opening our doors to a guest.

It’s my pleasure to introduce Gillian Marchenko. (Her tagline: “The world is full of people who seem to have it all together … Gillian speaks for the rest of us.”) She’s an author and national speaker who lives in Chicago with her husband Sergei and four daughters.

Gillian writes about “stumbling faith, Down syndrome, adoption, depression, motherhood, and lots of grace.” I shared a guest post on Gillian’s blog earlier this year (“The Most Beautiful and Terrible of Promises, Lessons Learned from my Brother with Autism”), and I’m happy to bring her writing to you today.

Gillian’s recently-published memoir, Sun Shine Down (T.S. Poetry Press, 2013) is a courageous, heartbreaking story about her journey to love and accept her daughter, Polly, who was born with Down syndrome. (You can read my Amazon review here.) Whenever I read Gillian’s words, I am able to see more clearly that love is the only thing that matters.

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In My Arms by Gillian Marchenko

“Mom!” Polly yells out in her sleep. Her body thrashes to and fro on our queen sized bed. Her legs kick the covers off. Sweat glistens her forehead.

The house is quiet. My husband and two older girls went out for the night. My youngest has been asleep for an hour in her room. I bedded Polly in next to me, thinking that my husband would move her when he got home, and that her slight of breath, up and down, methodical, musical, may inspire me as I grab a few last minutes in the day to write with our fuzzy white dog at my feet.

“Honey, what’s wrong. Tell Mama what’s wrong.”

She doesn’t respond but continues to fuss and squirm.

“Shh, there, there,” I attempt to settle her back into her dream cycle. This part isn’t new to me, a seasoned mother of four. There have been countless nights in the last twelve years where I’ve brushed wet hair off a forehead, hummed a melody, and lulled a child back to sleep.

But my coaxing doesn’t work.

“What’s wrong, Polly? Does something hurt?”

My daughter nods, and a shot of electricity zaps my extremities.

When Polly was born at 37 weeks, she wasn’t breathing. The doctors resuscitated her, and she spent the first three weeks of her life in an incubator fighting for her life.

By the time I felt the weight of her tiny, five-pound body in my arms, I had already been informed of her diagnosis of Down syndrome.

I wrote about that time in my recently published memoir Sun Shine Down. Polly too weak to leave her plastic dome and me, too weak to fathom the curve ball of Down syndrome.

Sometimes my arms ache to hold Polly the baby. What I wouldn’t give to scoop her up, to hell with my fear of the unknown, to hell with sickness, and to hell with stigmas hidden within, stigmas I didn’t know existed in me until I heard the words Down syndrome.

“Show me where it hurts.”

Polly gestures towards her head.

“Your head hurts?”

She nods yes again. I pull her up onto my chest. It is not an easy task because she is now seven years old.

But we don’t screw around with headaches in this family.

Three years ago, Polly had a catastrophic stroke which resulted in the diagnosis of Moyamoya, a disease that thins the arteries in the brain to the point of strokes and seizures. Unbeknownst to us, this disastrous disease had been causing mild strokes in her body throughout her short little life.

Polly underwent two brain surgeries that diminished the chances of recurrent strokes and seizures from 67% to 7%. She rocked the surgeries, actually running circles around me after the second one, just days after her neurosurgeon cut through skin, skull, and brain to create new blood flow for our girl.

“Here, honey, let me see.” I force Polly’s face towards mine and examine her for signs of stroke. No twitching, no loss of motor control. The fearful moment releases into the air around us. I hold her to my heart like I longed to do after her birth. She settles, and sinks into me. My body is quicksand. I engulf her.

We’ve danced around death too often.

Polly is here tonight, in my arms. I don’t take it for granted.

She’s here. I feel her weight. She is happy. She loves her life. Her life overflows with joy, so much so that she splashes her joy on those around her, and continually plugs up my heart, so that I can be filled too.

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What relationships teach you about acceptance? Join the conversation in the comments section below!

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Our free offering has grown to include a second digital book! Receive posts via email, along with both Your Creed of Care: How to Dig for Treasure in People (Without Getting Buried Alive) AND Love’s Subversive Stance: Ground Yourself & Grow in Relationship. [Click to Tweet.]

The Work That’s Never Done

There’s one item in our house that always catches people’s eyes.

The item in question? A photo collage that my husband Jonathan received when we moved away from the L’Arche community where we met.

Farewell collages are a tradition at L’Arche DC; they feature the faces of every person that was a part of L’Arche during the years one lived there. In Jonathan’s case, that means five years of faces, five years of relationships.

When we first moved, I hesitated to display the collage. The goodbye was still raw; there were (are) so many people we love and miss. And some faces triggered feelings of grief or discomfort, in the wake of try-as-we-might-but-alas-still-unresolved conflict.

Even so, I sensed that putting it out in the open was the right thing to do.

***

Ever since we moved, that collage has been an excellent emotional ‘gauge’ for me. If I pass it and my heart aches with missing beloved people, I know it’s time to let myself grieve, to send them love and light. If I feel old hurts stirring, I know it’s time to pray in the words of the Wailin’ Jennys in their song Beautiful Dawn:

Teach me how to see when I close my eyes / Teach me to forgive and to apologize

Show me how to love in the darkest dark / There’s only one way to mend a broken heart.

Our work of forgiveness is never done (not in this life, anyway). I will always need to return to this prayer. But more and more, as I look at those faces, all I feel is love.

To be sure, I’ve had to do hard things to get there, like cleaning up messes I made or participated in, and admitting where I was wrong. I’ve had to write:

Dear friend, I have eaten some humble pie since last we met, and it has helped me to see our time together more clearly. I thought I understood everything, but I understood almost nothing at all. I’m sorry.

I’m sorry I gave you the cold shoulder rather than the benefit of the doubt. 

I’m sorry I didn’t fight harder for our friendship.

I’m sorry I was too scared to tell you the truth.

I’m sorry I couldn’t let you go your own way.

Could you forgive me?

When I’ve sent such messages — difficult as they are to compose — I have never felt so free. And don’t even get me started on people’s replies. When I consider how so many people forgave me before I even knew I needed their forgiveness … I just lose it. Things get undignified. Holy tears.

Heaven, I believe, is simply a place without barriers, and I’ve never felt this as strongly as when I see walls between us fall.

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A still from A Wish Come Clear’s new trailer (coming soon)!

So here’s what I think when I look at that collage now: the people who love and forgive you are your family … and so are the people who resent you and hold things against you.

Because we’ve all done both, haven’t we?

In the words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

And so I pray for every face on that collage. Even if we never meet again, we will always be connected. We are part of one another’s stories, pieces of one another’s hearts. We’re family, and family isn’t simple or easy or get-it-right-the-first-time. We have to keep falling down, and getting back up together.

It’s like what happened when I was trying to take a picture of the collage for this post. At first, all my shots came out blurry, with too much glare. Finally, it hit me: I have to sit on the floor and look up from below. I have to, quite literally, get out of my own way. 

And then – only then – will I be able to see clearly.

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How have you experienced forgiveness? Join the conversation in the comments!

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Our free offering has grown to include a second digital book! Receive posts via email, along with both Your Creed of Care: How to Dig for Treasure in People (Without Getting Buried Alive) AND Love’s Subversive Stance: Ground Yourself & Grow in Relationship. [Click to Tweet.]